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Broadband's Impact

FCC’s Wheeler Testifies Before House Subcommittee, Defends Record on Net Neutrality

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WASHINGTON, May 20, 2014 – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler came under heavy criticism during a Tuesday hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, with many members expressing disapproval of the agency’s recent performance, particularly over the issue of network neutrality.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., criticized the agency’s “selective inaction,” warning that it was treading in “rough waters.” He criticized the agency for failing to complete its quadrennial review of broadcast ownership rules.

Walden also expressed disapproval of the move to reclassify broadband as a Title II, or common carrier, telecommunications services. Doing so would give the FCC authority to “second-guess business decisions.”

“The modern communications landscape bears no resemblance to the world Title II is meant to regulate,” Walden said. The reclassification of broadband service providers…will harm consumers, halt job creation, curtail innovation, and stifle investment… We should also be aware that [reclassification] opens the door for states to regulate the Internet.”

Other Republicans on the subcommittee shared Walden’s criticism. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., expressed frustration over the partisanship that the Commission had shown, citing reports of items being shared with Democrats 24 hours before Republicans.

“Regardless of political affiliations, commissioners must be given adequate and equal time to consider the items on which they’re going to vote,” Upton said.

Upton also urged a “light touch regulatory scheme” as the key to America telecom industry success. “Subjecting [broadband] to burdensome [regulations] is a leap in the wrong direction,” he said.

Others, particularly Democratic representatives, agreed with the premise behind net neutrality, but disagreed with what they called the FCC’s half-way approach.

“The time has come to end the legal gymnastics and stop the lobbying games being played by the big broadband providers,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “You should use your Title II authority as a backstop authority to protect the open internet. If you want to proceed with Section 706, that’s fine – but you shouldn’t water down the open internet rules to fit Section 706. Instead, you should get the substance right and invoke Title II as an independent basis of authority.”

Wheeler defended the Commission’s actions, listing a number of areas on which the agency had made progress on, including the forthcoming incentive auction of radio frequencies. He also pointed to a successful ruling on emergency 911 texting, which allows deaf individuals to communicate with emergency responders, as well as a effort to regulate cell phone location information.

“As wireless usage increases and as it replaces… wireline connections inside, and as GPS usage has increased, there’s been a fascinating reality that location accuracy has actually declined,” Wheeler said. “We got a notice on how to [solve] that because that’s literally a matter of life and death.

As for net neutrality, Wheeler explained that D. C. Circuit court’s January 2014 decision affirmed the Commission’s authority for net neutrality under co-called Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. This, he said, provided a “road map” to deal with the open internet.

“When the consumer buys access to the Internet, they are buying access to the full Internet and that’s what our rules try to protect,” Wheeler said. “[We ought to] explore the power granted by Section 706, keep asking how Title II fits in, but develop a regulatory process that looks forward, not backward, because what we need is a regulatory process for the 21st century.”

Grilling Wheeler, Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn said that his actions had inspired “a great deal of uncertainty” among content providers, including those offering telemedicine services.

Wheeler agreed that it was important to conduct cost-benefit analysis in decision-making.

“In this rulemaking, we specifically ask what are the costs of one approach or another and what are the benefits so that we can collect that information and have that kind of analysis.”

“Our effort is to represent the American people, not company A or B,” he said.

When asked what types of prioritization were acceptable, Wheeler replied that while the courts had asked the Commission to judge prioritization on a “case-by-case basis,” the Commission is now asking the public whether it should be judged “generically.”

Waxman expressed concern that asking the public when paid prioritization is permissible will result in “a lot of ambiguity” and a lot of litigation.

“I believe bright lines will be a lot better for the market and innovation,” Waxman said.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., questioned Wheeler’s motivations for only targeting ISPs and not content providers. He asked whether the Chairman had “an ax to grind” against broadband providers.

Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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